3 Tips Wedding Bartenders Wish You Knew

It turns out that serving your favorite cocktail at your wedding might be more of a headache than you realize.

<p>Getty Images</p>

Getty Images

Between wedding bells and Champagne toasts, there’s likely a bartender to thank.

This wedding season, we’re dreaming of lush outdoor soirees and candlelit receptions, all enjoyed with a delicious drink — alcoholic or not — in-hand. While nuptials already carry a lengthy list of traditions and (sometimes antiquated) etiquette, cocktail menus also involve their own set of expectations.

In the spirit of manifesting a more seamless and stress-free cocktail hour, we asked four wedding bartenders from across the country to describe their own view from behind the bar — pet peeves and sticky situations, included.

How to plan a wedding cocktail hour

An events-focused bartender is a great way to set your celebration up for success, says Claire Holman, co-owner of Seattle-based mobile bartending company Party on the Rocks. Holman’s team builds customized menus of signature drinks with on-theme names and coordinating colors, as well as staffing on-site services.

When planning drinks service for a wedding, there’s typically a set recipe, and it includes two parts creativity, one part practicality, and just a dash of well-intentioned design. Oh, and a sense of fun, too.

While the final menu often depends on the couple, you’ll typically want to plan for three signature cocktails, one red wine, one white wine, and a handful of beer options. Staying deeply intentional when choosing the flavor profile of those cocktails is key. For example, a bright and citrusy Paloma wouldn’t aesthetically complement a wintertime reception. Even if you’re used to ordering including frothy sours and anything that requires muddling, know that adding them to your signature cocktail list will risk slowing down service.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for creative offerings. For couples hoping to incorporate something blue into their celebration, Byroads Bar co-founder and CEO Tyler Nicole Glenn suggests building a simple signature drink with a hint of butterfly pea flower tea. During brainstorming sessions with clients, Holman also often suggests adding a tart splash of cranberry juice to a Moscow Mule or otherwise tweaking a classic recipe.

These days, it’s also increasingly common to attend an alcohol-free ceremony. Just ask Nyina Muigai, founder of the non-alcoholic mobile bartending service NoliQ by Wanyinz. Her expertise is often tapped to create complex nonalcoholic cocktails that delight, surprise, and satisfy guests’ thirst for something special. No matter the menu, Muigai recommends including at least one tasteful nonalcoholic cocktail option, such as a bubbly spritz or a Margarita shaken with a zero-ABV tequila.

How to stay on the bartender's good side

After weeks of planning and menu tastings, it’s bad form to suddenly cut down on the amount of glassware you’re renting or introduce last-minute menu tweaks. While bartenders are trained to solve logistical challenges, like bar placement, preventable disruptions can impact the feel of the day, Glenn explains.

“I think of a cocktail as an art piece — glassware adds an element to it that would otherwise be lost,” Glenn says. “I hate Solo cups for a reason: You lose all the beauty you’d be getting in the experience. It takes a huge part away from the moment of experiencing a cocktail.”

Communicating with guests about whether you’re planning an open or cash bar (as well as a tentative overview of the menu) is also a good call, Muigai notes. And we’ve heard it a thousand times, but tipping is also never discouraged. You can even skip the ATM, as that wedding bar is likely also stocked with a point-of-sale system or QR code. Tipping one dollar per drink is a good gesture, Holman says.

How to build a bar service flow

You’ll often find Rye on the Road events lead Caleb Kimbley scoping out the venue for the most efficient bar service. When slinging customized drinks at weddings, he says that ensuring a stress-free day is all about prioritizing simplicity.

A professional bartending team will first assess the venue and ceremony timing to determine the best setup, with a priority on efficiency and delicious drinks. And ultimately, Kimbley says any impatient in-laws would rather be socializing on the dance floor than standing around the bar.

“As long as you’re able to put a drink in their hand fairly quickly, people are typically happy,” Kimbley explains. “Of course, we want it to be delicious, too. But people are really there to enjoy other people.”

A little bit of patience (and a generous tip) goes a long way. 

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